It was only a matter of time before a pitcher decided to respond to Juan Soto for, well, being Juan Soto. In the top of the fifth, after forcing the 20-year-old Nationals stud to ground out, Cardinals pitcher Miles Mikolas looked over at Washington’s dugout as Soto trotted over and aggressively grabbed his junk. Oddly enough, no feelings were hurt and neither of the benches cleared in an attempt to display some false sense of machismo. But that’s because there was an implicit understanding of why Mikolas did what he did.
Soto has a habit of being rather flamboyant in the batter’s box. He’ll jump out of the way of pitches that are nowhere near him, he’ll really dance around with his spikes in the dirt and, in between pitches, he’ll grab his crotch while adjusting himself in a way that’s tough to ignore. His actions have been dubbed the “Soto shuffle.” It was something that had always been explained as a tic Soto needed to appease in the box, but, as the Washington Post noted, the young outfielder revealed that there was admittedly more to it.
“I like to get in the minds of the pitchers,” Soto said [in Los Angeles]. “Because sometimes they get scared.”
When you combine that bold and brash mentality with the very sensitive nature that pitchers inherently have, as well as the strict adherence to “playing the right way” that the Cardinals have instilled in their players and fans, a fastball to the upper body seems rather inevitable. Things looked as though they were headed that way on Friday when Soto appeared to face Mikolas for the third time. Despite being booed earlier in the game for taking too long to return to home plate from first, Soto was not phased and decided to really embellish all of his in-box rituals during that at-bat. He swayed his hips, licked his lips on an inaccurate curveball and grabbed his crotch more emphatically than he had all game.
So it would make sense why Mikolas felt the need to respond given the competitive environment in which this happened—getting out of a bases-loaded jam in the playoffs also tends to have that effect. Naturally, what the two players had to say were of some interest to reporters after the game, and both were rather okay with what the other did.
“He has a routine where he shuffles around the box and adjusts his cup or whatnot, and I was just having fun out there, just kind of giving it back to him in a good-natured, ribbing kind of way,” [Mikolas] said. “There was no intent to be mean or start anything out there.”
“For me, it’s not good. If he react, that don’t matter cause he make me out. I don’t care, he can do whatever he want. I just gotta laugh about it. We gonna keep going and gonna face him again.”
(It’s worth noting that some outlets appear to be running with the first sentence of Soto’s quote to imply that he wasn’t a fan of what Mikolas did. But interpreting what he said in that way seems to contradict the rest of the quote. Personally, I think this was a case of Soto trying to say that showboating before a grounder looks bad on him, and his broken English messing with his intended message.)
Amazing that this sport is totally capable of having these moments without one player trying to decapitate another. More teams should try this approach, in my opinion.